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Judging the USMNT’s summer

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Gregg Berhalter is winning over his detractors. Now he needs to start winning against Mexico.

The United States men’s national team manager failed in his first bid to win a trophy, the 2019 Gold Cup, albeit against a much better Mexico team which was highly-favored to win its eighth trophy.

There were stumbles along the way — the men clearly expected to waltz past Curacao — but the Yanks largely passed tests in paving the way to the CONCACAF Nations League and 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Let’s talk about the good and the bad. We’ll try to avoid the meh.

Necessary negatives: The extended extended extended proving ground

Imagine, for a moment, you’ve moved to another country. Hey, maybe you have. Congratulations on your international jet-setting ways.

Now you’ve found one place around the corner from your apartment where you like the food. It tastes like home. The person who runs the place knows your name and always thanks you for your business.

But now your new friends are showing you other places. They are tastier places which are also healthier for you.

Still, you keep going back to the first place. It’s served you well.

It’s called Gyasi and Wil’s Family Restaurant, and Gregg Berhalter loves the lunch special.

This was one of the prime stumbling blocks of Berhalter’s early tenure as USMNT boss and one of its only true setbacks before his questionable substitutions in the Gold Cup Final against Mexico.

Berhalter overachieved in a big way during his time as Columbus Crew boss, and that was aided in no small way by midfielder Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. One needs to look no further than Caleb Porter’s first season with a very similar Columbus roster to see just how well Berhalter did in Ohio.

But Trapp has been average at-best for the last four seasons in MLS and doesn’t have a place anywhere off the fringes of the national team pool (He’s been especially suspect this year in the United States’ top flight).

And to a lesser extent, the same is true for Zardes. Even in last year’s 20-goal season with Columbus, his stats were not wonderful (aside from the goals and yes, goals are pretty important in soccer).

Berhalter gave 17 of Trapp’s 19 caps to the midfielder, but only used him twice in the Gold Cup run (once off the bench). Trapp captained the side in his first eight caps under Berhalter, and again in June’s friendly slaughter at the hands of Salomon Rondon and Venezuela.

He’s just okay, not a mainstay, and it took Berhalter some time to realize that Michael Bradley was the far superior option despite being nowhere near his peak powers and a sudden turnover machine.

Zardes is not the answer at striker, although he put in a solid sub shift on Sunday, and Berhalter made sure he asked that question continually over the past half-year. He’s capable of the sublime and there’s currently a place for him in a 23-man roster, but that’s it. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 50 career caps, and here are the ones that come outside of CONCACAF:

Bolivia: 2 goals
Paraguay: 1 assist
Ecuador: 2 goals
Chile: 1 assist
Netherlands: 1 goal

Anyway, the point is not to dog Trapp and Zardes. They are pool players, but are unlikely to be regular difference makers for the USMNT. Berhalter, as is his right, gave them a loyal chance to stake a claim to their preferred places. Neither has been exceptional despite a wealth of experience in his system. The game’s not over, but it seems their role is as mid-level boss.

Pulisic is a wonder, and we wonder what’s next (Alternatively titled: Don’t hurt him, Lamps)

Christian Pulisic is a terrific player with world class potential. He is a worker, a playmaker, a finisher, and a burgeoning leader.

We need not spent too much detailing his exploits in the tournament, which earned him a place in the Best XI.

But the key part of this is that the kid continues to show up bigger when it matters.

Not 21 until September, Pulisic’s first Gold Cup saw him post three goals and three assists in five matches. Prior to this summer, he has seven goals and seven assists in World Cup qualifiers.

Even including his failure to meet the score sheet in the Copa America Centenario, Pulisic has 10 goals and 10 assists in 21 tournament matches for the USMNT. Compare that to three goals in nine friendlies. Guy’s a gamer.

Now he goes to Chelsea, a new club with a new manager who did not purchase him (but will surely be no stranger to his exploits). Frank Lampard will need Pulisic to show him something, but the price tag means the American will get every chance to do so.

That said, this isn’t a plea for “Lamps” to play Pulisic, rather develop him. The player is a dynamite winger, but Lampard was one of the most complete attacking midfielders of his generation. We’d argue the hiring is a good one. Let’s hope to be proven correct.

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Chances taken, squandered, and everything in between

Here is a partial list of players left off the USMNT roster: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Antonee Robinson, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Russell Canouse, Andrija Novakovich, and Bobby Wood.

Some went uncalled by Gregg Berhalter, yeah, but all remain prospects to get regular spots on the team.

Of the men who were called into the squad, there are several who entered the tournament as undoubted long-term mainstays: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Zack Steffen among them. Others had a good handle on a place in the squad moving forward. While not perfect, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore ensured that they won’t be headed to the retirement unless they make that choice.

It’s difficult to get a read on Berhalter, and whether he’s dismissed a player or simply rotating according to some unnamed plan.

He benched Tyler Boyd with the U.S. in dire needed of attacking creativity against Mexico. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman were pretty decent in the tournament, so maybe he had just seen enough?

Reggie Cannon seized his opportunity to lay claim to a fullback’s place in the pool, and Boyd looked good to most of us (again, how does Berhalter really feel?). Jordan Morris had his moments.

Paul Arriola seems to have made the right impression on his coach, while Berhalter has a very high opinion of Cristian Roldan (His engine is elite, but production remains absent).

All told, the coach is doing a decent job

I’ve written a number of times that the U.S. Soccer Federation did Gregg Berhalter no favors with the mysterious hiring process, because he’s a worthy hiring.

The loss against Mexico stings but it doesn’t scar, maybe because Berhalter’s Yanks pummeled Trinidad and Tobago for a measure of revenge and staked fair claims of superiority over Panama and Jamaica.

His system is asking a lot out of this player pool, but once we see the full-throated team with John Brooks leading out of the back with his under-appreciated distribution and Tyler Adams spying Pulisic, Weah, and other electric attackers, the Yanks are going to roar through CONCACAF.

Injuries could cost them, yeah, and the youth we’ve seen shine with the U-20s and (hopefully) the U-23s heading into the Olympics need to be nurtured into contributors.

As of right now, you’d bet on the USMNT to sit in the top three spots for the Hex and it’s reasonable to expect Berhalter to develop the young players into a squad that can rival Mexico’s by the Nations League finals or the Hex.

That’s when Berhalter will get his next serious chance to rival Tata Martino. And this time, he won’t have to plug in maybes and what ifs.

Hopefully. And that adverb is the one that applies to almost every USMNT question.

Bonus item: USWNT

After 1300 words on the men, here are a dozen or so on the women that matter just as much: Pay them equally. They’re the best we’ve got, and it’s the right thing to do anyway.

2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame candidates announced

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Candidates for the 2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame have been announced and we’ll certainly tell you about all of the new batch of possible members, we’re also going to ask a huge question of the voters.

How is Steve Cherundolo not already in this thing?

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Last year’s class included a mere two people  — Abby Wambach and Sunil Gulati — and there hasn’t been a class of more than four since 2011.

Cherundolo made 423 career appearances for German side Hannover 96, even captaining the side for four seasons. He earned 86 caps with the United States men’s national team and was a member of three World Cup squads.

He simply has to be in the next group, as few others on the list have more deserving shouts over him (Perhaps Carlos Bocanegra and Jeff Cunningham).

Only one first-time finalist, Hope Solo, could rival Cherundolo’s record, and we wonder if the voters will look past her tumultuous off-field life and outspoken stance against the federation. Robbie Rogers will also certainly collect votes for an outstanding career which saw him become the first openly gay player in MLS.

First-time finalists (Full list of candidates)

Brad Davis
Whitney Engen
Herculez Gomez
Clarence Goodson
Hope Solo
Mike Magee
Carlos Ruiz
Nat Borchers
Conor Casey
Justin Mapp
Jamison Olave
Robbie Rogers
Jen Buczkowski
Kelly Smith

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Spurs in UCL; Man City’s response

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap the crucial Champions League results this week focusing on Liverpool’s 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid (0:50), Tottenham falling 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig (11:45) and another impressive performance by Erling Haaland in Dortmund’s win over PSG (24:55).

The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s 2-0 victory against West Ham and share their thoughts on Pep Guardiola‘s first comments about City’s UEFA ban (27:55). The gents wrap up the pod review the Europa League results for Manchester United (42:50), Arsenal (48:00), and Wolves (51:55).

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To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 26

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We’re nearing the time of the Premier League season where the club power rankings reach a sense of finality, with little movement as relegated sides and contenders latch onto their table footing.

It makes sense, of course, as many sides have now met each other twice, the litmus tests less important than the proof in the pudding.

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Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Norwich City — The moral victories aren’t very rewarding anymore, the little errors causing more significant pain. Credit to Alisson for scooping up a weak pass, but this week’s pain was self-inflicted despite a very decent performance.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

19. West Ham United — David Moyes‘ men are now winless in eight since clobbering Bournemouth, and a trip to Anfield is next. And the Irons don’t even get the bonus of being rested while Liverpool played at midweek.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Man City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at Liverpool

18. Watford — Suddenly winless in five with Manchester United and Liverpool next.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — Three draws and one loss in a four-match run that demanded at least two wins.
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

16. Crystal Palace — The Eagles have one goal through three matches since the 2-2 draw with Man City and will be hoping to break their skid versus plucky Newcastle.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle United

15. Bournemouth — A trip to Burnley demands a result given Chelsea and Liverpool follow.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

14. Aston Villa — A tricky trip to St. Mary’s before the League Cup Final; What are the chances Villa clinches Europa League but heads down to the Championship?
Last week: 17
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Saints

13. Newcastle United — The Magpies were very good in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal but fell apart in the second frame. They need to start stacking a couple of wins for comfort, as Steve Bruce‘s men finish with three of five against Spurs, Man City, and Liverpool (two of whom will be looking for revenge).
Last week: 12
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-0 at Arsenal
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Crystal Palace

12. Southampton — What the heck happened against Burnley?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

11. Burnley — The Clarets have taken 10 of 12 points, the only setback a draw with Arsenal, and are firmly in the Europa League discussion despite approaching historically bad numbers in passing.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

10. Manchester United — For one Monday, Harry Maguire was an incredibly lucky man on an incredibly fortunate team. At least Bruno Fernandes looks dynamite.
Last week: 11
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-0 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Watford

9. Wolves — Still wouldn’t want to see them on the schedule, but Wolves hopes for the Champions League are based in the UEL.
Last week: 6
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Norwich City

8. Arsenal — The defense appears solid under Mikel Arteta, though his old pals Everton will present the stiffest test in some time.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Won 4-0 v. Newcastle
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

7. Chelsea — Holds a 1-2-2 record in league play since Christian Pulisic was injured.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Manchester United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Spurs

6. Sheffield United — The Premier League’s Papillon.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton

5. Everton — Carlo Ancelotti has the Toffees humming toward Europa League… and possibly better.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

4. Leicester City — Still on track for the top four, but haven’t looked UCL caliber in weeks.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Wolves
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

3. Spurs — Losing Kane and Son will probably cost them in their chase to rejoin the UCL, but we wouldn’t rule out Jose Mourinho. Still: Chelsea, Wolves, and Manchester United are three of the next four PL opponents.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

2. Manchester City — Ban or not, they are finishing second… unless Leicester finds its very best against a UCL-obsessed City on Saturday.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

1. Liverpool — Poor, poor West Ham.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 1-0 at Norwich City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. West Ham

Mikel Arteta reacts after Arsenal extends shutout streak

Mikel Arteta
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Arsenal’s last three opponents have hardly recalled Barcelona in its prime, but there’s no doubt Mikel Arteta will be happy to see the Gunners’ clean sheet streak hit three.

Mikel Arteta’s latest triumph is a 1-0 win over stingy Olympiacos in Greece, and Arsenal did not concede a single big chance on the day according to Sofascore.

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Arsenal entered the day having blanked Burnley at Turf Moor and Newcastle United in London to run its shutout streak to 270 minutes.

Given that the Gunners allowed 28 goals in a 14-match run without a clean sheet that stretched from Oct. 21 to Dec. 21, that’s good stuff.

Here’s Arteta, via Football.London:

“I told them they have to enjoy defending. If you give the ball away you better run back. The team instead of splitting are coming together and the wide players are doing different things than before. It’s a big effort.”

Arteta seems to have a perfect storm going for him. He’s one manager removed from Arsene Wenger, somewhat clear of the looming legend but also connected to him by his status as a former player.

He’s also, of course, linked to Pep Guardiola, and there’s more than a hint of the Man City boss in Arteta’s press conferences.

Take his words on the match in Pireaus on Thursday.

“It’s tough to come to a stadium like this and come away with a win. There are some great things for our development as a team. The first 10 minutes we suffered and were completely poor.”

Soon he’s going to be saying they were “so, so good” and perhaps even rocking a bulky sweater. We doubt he’ll be shaving that jet black mane of hair any time soon, though.